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An activist shareholder uses an equity stake in a corporation to put public pressure on its management. The goals of activist shareholders range from financial (increase of shareholder value through changes in corporate policy, financing structure, cost cutting, etc.) to non-financial (disinvestment from particular countries, adoption of environmentally friendly policies, etc.). The attraction of shareholder activism lies in its comparative cheapness; a fairly small stake (less than 10% of outstanding shares) may be enough to launch a successful campaign. In comparison, a full takeover bid is a much more costly and difficult undertaking.
Shareholder activism has gained popularity as management compensation at publicly traded companies and the rising cash balances on corporate balance sheets have risen.
Shareholder activism can take any of several forms: proxy battles, publicity campaigns, shareholder resolutions, litigation, and negotiations with management. Daniel Loeb, head of Third Point Management, is notable for his use of sharply written letters directed towards the CEOs of his target companies.
Some of the recent activist investment funds include: Icahn Management LP, Santa Monica Partners Opportunity Fund LP and Relational Investors, LLC.
Due to the increasing popularity of the internet, smaller shareholders have also gained an outlet to voice their opinions. In 2005, small MCI Inc shareholders created an online petition to protest the MCI Inc/Verizon merger.